Conversion and the Politics of Religion in Early Modern Germany

Conversion and the Politics of Religion in Early Modern Germany

Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    Conversion and the Politics of Religion in Early Modern Germany
    Book Description:

    The Protestant and Catholic Reformations thrust the nature of conversion into the center of debate and politicking over religion as authorities and subjects imbued religious confession with novel meanings during the early modern era. The volume offers insights into the historicity of the very concept of "conversion." One widely accepted modern notion of the phenomenon simply expresses denominational change. Yet this concept had no bearing at the outset of the Reformation. Instead, a variety of processes, such as the consolidation of territories along confessional lines, attempts to ensure civic concord, and diplomatic quarrels helped to usher in new ideas about the nature of religious boundaries and, therefore, conversion. However conceptualized, religious change- conversion-had deep social and political implications for early modern German states and societies.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-376-1
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION. The Politics of Conversion in Early Modern Germany
    (pp. 1-13)

    In the beginning was a conversion—or, more precisely, the memory of a profound change, given clarity and meaning with each retelling through the years. Near the end of his life, in 1545, Martin Luther published an account of what came to be known as the “Tower Experience.” After “meditating day and night” over the Epistle of Paul to the Romans, Luther arrived at the realization that his angry struggles to comprehend the meaning of divine righteousness were themselves the work of God within him. Like the Apostle Paul, Luther remembered the sensation that he “had entered paradise itself through...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Paths of Salvation and Boundaries of Belief: Spatial Discourse and the Meanings of Conversion in Early Modern Germany
    (pp. 14-30)

    Both Catholic and Lutheran writers in the Holy Roman Empire articulated the concept of conversion after the Reformation with a cluster of related words and expressions.Conversiowas the main Latin word for conversion, and its most common German equivalent wasBekehrung.Bekehrungitself possessed several nuanced meanings, denoting both the process of internal spiritual renewal experienced by a true convert and the external act of formally changing from one religion to another. But beyondBekehrung,early modern German possessed a rich vocabulary to describe the act of conversion. One could, for example, “change” religion (die Religion wechseln or verändern);...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Conversion Concepts in Early Modern Germany: Protestant and Catholic
    (pp. 31-48)

    Religious conversion has emerged as an attractive field for historical research. In the last few years, the number of articles, special periodical issues, research projects, monographs, and conferences has increased significantly, opening up whole new areas to historical research on the early modern period. Historians interested in conversion have been developing new concepts and methods in discussion with other disciplines. The most current research has adopted a critical stance toward the older tradition of conversion historiography, which approached the subject with confessional biases or focused on prominent cases, asking only whether conversion was motivated primarily by religion or politics. Taking...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Turning Dutch? Conversion in Early Modern Wesel
    (pp. 49-68)

    Following the collapse of the Augsburg Interim in the summer of 1552, magistrates and clergy in the Rhineland town of Wesel adopted religious standards that affiliated the city with the recently triumphant Lutheran party in the religious conflicts then plaguing Germany. Within two generations, though, this town had become a bastion of Calvinism. According to most historical accounts of this transformation, Calvinism’s triumph in Wesel was the result of a successful missionary campaign by the town’s foreign-born Calvinist population, which had arrived just as Wesel was splitting from Rome and beginning to build its new church. This article reconsiders this...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR The Right to Be Catholic—The Right to Be Protestant? Perspectives on Conversion before and after the Peace of Westphalia
    (pp. 69-86)

    In the mid eighteenth century, the author of an article on “Conversion” (Religions-Veränderung) in Johann Heinrich Zedler’sUniversal-Lexiconclaimed that Germany was a country that promised freedom of conscience, where everyone should be permitted to convert from one of the established religions to any of the others—Catholicism, Lutheranism, and Calvinism—and to do so without loss of honor.¹ This writer was sure that conversion was a right available to all. But this position grew out of a long period of conflict. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when the idea of religious plurality had not yet won widespread acceptance,...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Conversion and Diplomacy in Absolutist Northern Europe
    (pp. 87-100)

    In 1690 a diplomatic scandal damaged relations between Sweden and Brandenburg, leaving both sides embittered and frustrated at a moment when they agreed that getting along would have served their respective foreign policy interests. The core of the scandal did not concern traditional international relations issues, but rather centered on the religious identity of the wife of the Brandenburg ambassador to Stockholm, a native-born Swede who had converted to Calvinism upon marrying her German Reformed husband. News of her conversion caused an uproar at the Swedish court and precipitated a mutually unwelcome showdown between the king of Sweden and the...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Irenicism and the Challenges of Conversion in the Early Eighteenth Century
    (pp. 101-118)

    In 1710, the English politician Robert Harley (1661–1724) received news from Germany that “Duke Antonie of Wolfinbutle had given one of his [grand] daughters to a Papist, the other he was to give to a Barbarian, and if the Devil wo[ul]d ask the third, he believed he wo[ul]d give him her.”¹ As this bit of gossip suggests, the dynastic marriage policies of Duke Anton Ulrich of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel were closely observed across Europe.² Of the three marriages, the one that generated most attention was that of Elisabeth Christine (1691–1750), who in 1708 married the future Habsburg emperor Charles (VI.)....

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN Mish-Mash with the Enemy: Identity, Politics, Power, and the Threat of Forced Conversion in Frederick William I’s Prussia
    (pp. 119-134)

    “Conversion” is typically understood in the context of the “confessionalization” thesis. “Confessionalization” in early modern Europe emphasized the differences and boundaries between confessions and is generally portrayed as having been a top-down phenomenon in which central authorities starkly differentiated between their own confessions and others and imposed orthodoxy in religious doctrine and conformity in religious practices.¹ In this context, “conversion” reinforced “confessionalization” in that a meaningful “crossing over” from one confession to another emphasized the boundary between them.²

    The following essay challenges this aspect of the confessionalization thesis by exploring a specific example of irenicism and the attendant threat of...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT Pietist Conversion Narratives and Confessional Identity
    (pp. 135-152)

    The Pietist conversion narrative has become a central feature in depictions of Pietism. The dramatic account in which a nominal or lukewarm Christian despairs of his or her faith, struggles mightily with repentance, and finally breaks through to an assurance of grace and new life is almost a cliché popularized by the vivid account of August Hermann Francke.¹ This intensification mode of conversion, as some sociologists of religion characterize it, is distinct from other forms of early modern conversion, which have typically centered on a model in which the “convert” moves from one religious confession to another, or from outside...

  13. CHAPTER NINE Conversion and Sarcasm in the Autobiography of Johann Christian Edelmann
    (pp. 153-168)

    Johann Christian Edelmann (1698–1767) has been called “the most brilliant representative of the radical German Enlightenment in the eighteenth century.”¹ HisMoses mit aufgedecktem Angesichte(Moses with Uncovered Face) of 1740 immediately gained him infamy. There he promoted views associated with Spinoza and frankly denied Christian faith and dogma. “Never before,” observes Emmanuel Hirsch, “had a book appeared in the German language such as Edelmann’s Moses, that denied the entire biblical faith and Christian dogma from beginning to end, openly confessed Spinoza’s teachings on God and the world, and recklessly questioned traditional Christian views on miracles, God’s providence, and...

  14. Afterword
    (pp. 169-172)

    In 1897 Max Weber had a fight with his father that appeared to precipitate the older man’s death some seven weeks later, which led in turn to a nervous breakdown on the part of the son. The collapse left Weber “so utterly exhausted that his back and arms failed him when he tried to trim the Christmas tree,” and he was unable to work for the next five years.¹ Only after he was able to produce “three major essays in different fields as well as an important lecture” did it seem as if a major change had occurred, and by...

    (pp. 173-194)
    (pp. 195-199)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 200-206)